Does Hollywood manipulate expectations of love?

It may, but not because there’s a conscious agenda. 

Hollywood has always been about entertainment and nothing is more entertaining, to women at least, than romantic love, Prince Charmings and happy endings. And to men, hot women who like sex, understand them and happy endings. People give themselves over to these kinds of genre fairytales because they want to escape reality. The classic example, Pretty Woman, unapologetically satisfied both men and women’s fantasies. The woman, in the end, changed the man, got respect and a very rich, very handsome husband. The man got a prostitute who he could be himself with and give him good sex, but who was really a good girl at heart. Did anybody think there was an iota of reality in the premise? No, but they had fun.

Films and TV shows are fictions that come from the imagination, fantasies and experiences of the people who create them. In film and TV, it’s overwhelmingly white males who dictate what we see. The statistics say it all: If you analyze the top 250 films of 2013, you discover only 10% were written and 6% directed by women. TV is better, but still skewed: women created 24% of the shows, and composed 34% of the writers and 14% of the directors. So what do we usually get? Men’s expectations or experience of love, sex and relationship.

Maybe it’s the limited screen time (although they could use a montage) or maybe it’s clueless men, but sex is often portrayed like a porn flick. Here we have the lusting couple tearing each other’s clothes off, the man entering, from front or back, and the woman having an orgasm in 2 seconds. Perhaps there are women like that, but most women require foreplay–kissing, stroking, etc. for a period of time. This is rarely shown. Men and women could forget this is make–believe, expect a woman to respond that way, and think there’s something wrong with her sexually if she doesn’t.

There’s frequently a double standard in portraying the appearance of couples. Hollywood tends to cast beautiful or attractive women in every part, big or small, but the men, including the love interest, can just look like the average Joe or worse. Think Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up. The underlying message is that ordinary-looking men can be loved, but the women have to be pretty. Is that a conscious manipulation? It’s probably what the guy believes or wants to believe.

Then there’s the sexualization of women, but not men. Again, in the top grossing films, about 32% of women wore tight, sexy clothing and 31% were at least partially naked. That’s versus of 7% of men in sexy clothing and 9.4% partially naked. And it’s young, fertile woman who you see this way. Testosterone rules.

Even with these statistics, Hollywood is not a monolith. Woody Allen’s films, from Annie Hall to Blue Jasmine to his recent Magic in The Moonlight have always looked insightfully at love from all angles. Enough Said, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, rings true to how we can block and then free ourselves to love.

There’s also more entertainment today, particularly on the cable and premium channels that reflect more authentic, complex relationships. Even good old network TV gives us Modern Family allows us to enjoy a loving, gay family. Girls, created and written by Lena Dunham, portrays flawed, confused young women attracted to and in relationship with equally flawed, confused young men. They’re making their mistakes and figuring things out as they go–like most twenty-somethings and a lot of our young, and not so young, clients.

Masters of Sex tackles it all with well-rounded characters–repression, gay issues, a sexless marriage, being sexually free but afraid of personal connection and real intimacy and burgeoning love based on really getting to know your partner.

So, all and all, Hollywood is providing more product, especially on TV, with more ideas of what to expect from love.